The Land – ‘Rookie Files’ Pt.1
Up early this morning…. all was pretty quiet except for the distant thump of those diesel fishing boats as they made their way home. The dugong from last night was still circling… occasionally coming up to say hello. Perhaps he thinks the Con’s his mother – or maybe he’s just lonely – either way he’s a welcomed companion. As the sun rose… Iron’s appeared out of a hatch… examining the conditions with those morning eyes. There was already some wind… we’d probably set sail soon – but not before I fried up some bacon & eggs. Looking towards Ulus… medium sets were coming through the track. This anchorage was really the ultimate surf check… strategically set between some of the Bukit’s best.
After breakfast and a morning dip…. the wind had gained a few knots – Iron suggested we go. I squared away the galley and got organised. As I gripped the tiller… Iron pulled up anchor – a task I was yet to handle – but one I’d soon understand. As the last length of chain was on… the Con was loose. Iron sped back to the cockpit and immediately took the helm. As we went about… he pulled hard on the ropes and raised the mainsail. As the sheet climbed the mast… the boat began to heel and move forward – tacking out toward Ulus. Iron then passed me the tiller… instructing me to steer and hold the course. He went up to the bow to readied the head sail. Speeding out past Ulus… I tried to recall the psychics of the rudder. Seated with the handle on my right… I remembered if you wanted to turn to port (left) you must push the tiller away. If you wanted to turn to starboard (right).. you must pull it toward you. It’s important to not make radical swings… otherwise you just zigzag about. The more subtle your adjustments – the straighter the course. As we edged closer toward Ulus… Iron kept telling me to concentrate – to remain wide – there’s a dead spot in the wind near racetracks – perhaps due to the shape of the cliffs. If I planted us onto the reef – in front of the entire community – this would be an event that Iron explained – “we’d never live down”. Once the head sail was secure… he returned to the cockpit and reclaimed the helm. Finally we were out past the temple… the wind gained speed… the Con was flying – we were free and clear.
The ‘vertical’ learning curve
When you do something for the first time… there’s much to learn (and remember) – especially with language & terminology. “Release the clutch on the halyard now!!” – “Clutch? Halyard? What’s that??”. Also… when things get critical in sailing…there’s plenty of screaming and yelling. You require a thick skin to be under command of some Captains… particularly if personal references like: “useless” or “f%#king idiot”… cause offence. I was lucky with Iron… because when he yelled an order… it was usually in a measured emotional state. I’m not going to lie and say I was a perfect student – I messed up plenty. But when I made a mistake – I’d always did my best to not repeat it. It’s hard to score 10/10 when there’s a dozen things to remember. Especially when the task is also to be executed in a particular order and very quickly. But if you just pull your head in – lose the ego – and concentrate – you’ll make out fine.
Sails – what I have learned
As our adventure to Java took hold… one of the most challenging tasks I encountered was changing and/or adjusting the sails – especially while moving through the open swells. With sails – the concept is pretty simple. The weaker the wind – the bigger the sail… the stronger the wind – the smaller the sail.
Starting with adjusting the ‘main sail’ – this is basically done by either lowering or raising the sail to a certain height. There are 3 alloy rings spaced evenly along the vertical side of the sail and each can be lowered and secured on a hook near the boom. This task is known as ‘reefing’.
Here’s the basic steps:
1. Go to the mast and open the gate to the track (similar to a curtain system) – this track is what helps secure the vertical side of the sail to the mast.
2. As you pull the sail down… carefully remove the relevant ‘slugs’ (like the hooks in the curtain track) that are attached to the sail. Continue until you’ve reached the next ring.
3. Then after making sure no slugs above ring have fallen out… close the gate to the track.
4. With this ring in hand… pull it down the mast to where you’ll find a sizeable hook close to the boom. Then secure it.
5. Finally… alert the cockpit that all is good… tension will then be re-applied via the main halyward rope – tightening & securing the main sail to its new position.
Congratulations new-school… you’ve just officially completed your 1st reef.
Now obviously a hell of a lot can go wrong with this task. You might forget to close the gate… you may miss a slug… you can be too slow… or possibly (worse case scenario) you might fall overboard while on the job. Remember… you’re standing… charging through open swells and howling winds – leaning only on the mast – it’s not that hard to slip. Also… rescuing someone is a fairly complicated event… one that you don’t want to put your Captain or crew through – but we’ll get to that fun later.
Next… the ‘head sail’. This is at the front of the boat… and it’s a tad more complicated to change and/or manipulate. This sail is clipped onto the ‘forestay’ which is the primary rigging from the bow and the top of the mast. There’s a few different sized head sails – we had three. When changing them… the sail must be completely removed and exchanged. This task can get pretty intense…there’s a lot to do and you also have to be fast. Oh yeah… and since you’re at the bow – this area tends to thrash about more violently.
Here’s the essential steps:
1. The head (top) of the sail must be pulled down quickly along the forestay… and then immediately controlled with a ‘bear hug’.
2. Then you must undo all the sail clips (pictured above) along the ‘luff'(front edge of sail) – releasing the sail from the forestay.
3. After…. un-clip the halyard rope from the head of the sail & secure it to a rail. It’s must never let this rope get away from you – because it can be impossible to reclaim (especially while you’re moving) and without it you’ll never raise the head sail again.
4. Then unclasp the ‘tack’ – the lower front corner of the head sail – which is attached to the forestay.
5. Finally… square this sail neatly away to the side… securing it carefully to the front railing along the gunwhale. We had occy-straps for this task.
*important: It absolutely critical not to lose a sail overboard – no matter what. One must always take care when securing them away on deck – these items are very expensive and obviously vital to the sport.
6. Unwrap and prepare the new head sail (probably good to have this prepped before)… and then essentially reapply the process in reverse for installation of the new sail.
7. Also… once the new head sail is locked and loaded… you need to take the ‘clew’ rope (check diagram) off the removed sail and re-clip it to the new one. This rope allows you to control the head sail when you’re tacking(changing direction). I may be wrong about the order of operation with this particular task – but I’m a novice – so we’ll let that one slide.
Finally there’s one last sail we need to understand… and it’s arguably the most spectacular – the ‘spinnaker’. This sail is primarily for when the winds go light. Racing yachts use them regularly… but Iron reckons weekend warriors don’t unpack them that much. They’re apparently tricky to use and hard to master – plenty can go wrong.
Here’s my first spinnaker experience:
Continuing across the strait to Java… the 18 knot wind forecast never appeared. Instead we were dealing with 6’s & 7’s. Iron suddenly announced we were putting up the spinnaker. Now I’d previously experienced this procedure when Slade raised it on the leg around from Benoa to Padang. But this was different – I was now an active participant.
Crawling along the stretched net between the Con’s main and outer hull… I finally reached the spinnaker bag. Squating down… I clung firmly to the net… as countless waves splashed over me. Iron reminded me again of the importance of not falling overboard. As I considered this notion… a huge shark suddenly tore through a wave right in front of me. As if the pressure wasn’t already insane enough – this was probably the universe reminding me to pay attention – which I was trying to do – just as soon as I’d erased the vision of my torso being ripped to shreds by the jaws of an 8 ft tiger shark. But not wanting to really dwell on distractions – I resumed my focus of raising that goddamn sail.
Now… the spinnaker is the most liberated of the entire sail family – it’s not secured by any track like the others. It’s attached at only 3 corners… with the clew as its key point of attenuation. This is what makes using the spinnaker so artful – it way more manual… more free. Some spinnakers (like the Con’s) are housed in a long sock with a rubber ring at their base. This allows you to raise it up the mast first without opening it… then on command… you can pull up the sock and bring the sail to life.
Today this particular task was my responsibility. And it was my first attempt.
Apparently racers don’t use socks… no time for it… but they can make the task easier and safer. Spinnakers can fly out of control and get horribly tangled in riggings etc. Sometimes to the point where you’d need a knife to release them… meaning losing the sail.
So… there I was… crouched in the net… the spinnaker raised & ready… all the corners clipped in… rope in hand – ready to go. Suddenly Iron yelled “go!” Immediately I pulled on the rope… giving it everything I had… the sock went to the sky and the spinnaker released to the wind. As Iron pulled on the clew… the winch whirred wildly… as the sail flapped and popped. Suddenly… like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis… the spinnaker began to metamorph into the divine – to become its true self – it was spectacular. As its muscular chest projected forward – it was a masculine expression of an inner will – “I am taught – therefore I am”. I immediately fell back onto the net in awe… looking to the sky… gazing up at this creation in all its massive purity. It was mesmerizing – completely enthralling. It was one of the most extraordinary things I’d ever experienced – the raw power of nature – the vital force in the wind… articulated perfectly by the proud outline of this majestic sail.
It was really a privilege be part of something so great – something so pure.
To me… this was perfection. A moment when everything was absolutely clear… no clutter – no bullshit.
You understood the ‘what’…’how’… and ‘why’. Everything made perfect sense.
I finally understood what all the fuss was about.
Why people did it…
Sailing was a way into the soul.
It allowed you to understand… it gave meaning.
And like the Con’s sails… I was ready to accept anything…
…to make the most of it – whatever that may be.
To be continued…